Sexual harassment is an increasingly common problem in the workplace, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, with both men and women reporting they have been victimised while at work.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins launched a new report, titled Everyone’s business: Fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, at the National Press Club on Wednesday (12 September), following the launch of a world-first inquiry into the prevalence of work-based harassment.
The report found that one-third of all Australian respondents have experienced sexual harassment during the course of their work day in the past five years.
While women are more likely to report experiencing harassment, men too are increasingly becoming the target of unwanted attention and inappropriate conduct.
“The survey results highlight that this is an issue that affects both women and men. Almost two in five women (39 per cent) and just over one in four men (26 per cent) told us that they have been sexually harassed at work in the past five years,” Ms Jenkins said.
“These figures are unacceptable and have increased significantly since the last survey in 2012, which found one in five (21 per cent) people told us they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the previous five-year period.”
According to Ms Jenkins, young people are the most vulnerable to harassment, with those aged between 18 to 29 “more likely than those in any other age groups” to admit to being harassed at work.
However, the #MeToo movement, which swept the globe following allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in Hollywood, may have influenced the findings, as more people feel comfortable with speaking out about their experiences than in the past.
The report also broke down claims of harassment by industry. This breakdown painted a bleak picture for the media and telecommunications in particular, where 81 per cent of employees reported experiencing harassment.
This was well ahead of the next worst-rated industries: the arts and recreation services saw harassment experienced by 49 per cent of its workforce, with 47 per cent of electricity, gas, water and waste services personnel and 42 per cent of retail trade sector members reporting they had been the victim of harassment.
The problem is allowed to fester because of fears about reporting and calling out bad behaviour, Ms Jenkins suggested, with only around one in six (17 per cent) of victims actually making a complaint.
“We know from our research that many people are afraid to report their experiences of unwelcome sexual conduct out of fear that they won’t be believed, that it’s not worth it, that they’ll be ostracised and that it could damage their career,” said Ms Jenkins.
“It’s also worrying that almost half of those who did make a formal report said that nothing changed at their organisation, as a result of the complaint.”
She added: “Unwelcome sexual conduct on this scale in the workplace not only causes distress to workers and colleagues, it impacts workplace productivity and impedes career progression, which has an economic impact on businesses and families.”
The government-sanctioned report follows similar research by Shine Lawyers, which found that workplaces are struggling to deal with the behaviour, leaving three quarters of women reporting harassment unhappy with the outcome of their complaint.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.